Friday, March 30, 2012

Chocolate Packaging Fix

I don't try to hide the fact that I am a total whore for packaging.  There is no product on earth that is so good that it doesn't need a great presentation.  Mast Brothers Chocolate in Brooklyn, NY has taken the concept of a great product in a nifty outfit to a whole new level.  I recently found a local store that carries it and while my prayers have been answered(ish), I am still a little sad that I can't experience their tasting room shown below.  Brooklynites, you are a lucky lot.

The Waterbrush

I don't know how I've managed to miss this for so long, but I recently discovered waterbrushes.  Suddenly all of my excuses for not doing watercolors anymore have disappeared.  I can take these little suckers anywhere since they fit right into a pencil case and with watercolor pencils, there is not a big need to mess around with sloppy paints or gouaches, at least not on the fly in my little moleskine.  Very late last night while watching tv in bed, I started to play for the first time.  My technique needs perfecting, but I like the effect.  I am dreaming of capri sandals and warmer weather.  It's cold and rainy in Philadelphia, but it's Italy in my sketchbook.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Van Gogh Up Close

Last Saturday, my husband and I took our Japanese exchange student to the Philadelphia Art Museum to see a special showing called, "Van Gogh Up Close".  Only to be seen in Philadelphia, the show will not tour and gave a glimpse of some paintings only available for view in cities in other countries (mostly the Van Gogh Museum in the Netherlands) and some from private collections.  The show was incredible and I really mean that.  After studying Van Gogh's work for many years as an art student, he was never really one of my favorite artists.  I suspect this has something to do with my deep hatred for the color yellow.  He used it a lot.  Oh, I know, he used plenty of others colors too, but when I think of him, I think of sunflowers and wheat fields.  Both are yellow.  Yuck.  For some strange reason, I was able to look at his work this time in a completely new and different way and I fell a little bit in love with him.

After the show, we showed Saki some of our favorite installations in the museum and it was really fun to be able to watch someone seeing these things for the very first time.  The fat man armor with the bullet hole.  The Japanese tea house.  The Roman courtyard, which is one of my favorite places on earth.  I'm not sure why, but I can feel my blood pressure drop when I walk into that room.  I never forget how lucky I am to live so close to this beautiful place and be able visit just about any time I like.  The finale to our trip was a browsing session in the gift shop.  I came across this doll in the children's section and honestly, it's one of the funniest things I've ever seen.  He has a velco detachable ear that comes with a tag that says, "Send it to someone you love."  Totally sick and completely awesome.  Also, please note how disgruntled and angry he looks.  Makes me smile every single time I look at it.

Friday, March 23, 2012

White jeans in March

Thanks to Kate Middleton and sister, one of my pre-conceived notions of fashion and life in general have been obliterated and I am talking of course, about white jeans.  Not just white jeans after Memorial Day, but white jeans period, since I was convinced that they would make me look like I was at best, wearing nurse pants and at worst, washed out and sickly.  I have blonde hair and so naturally gravitate toward darker colors and jeans for me were supposed to be, you know, blue.  I'm not sure exactly when or how it happened, but it was like someone turned a switch and I decided that I would simply curl up and die if I couldn't find the perfect pair of skinny white jeans.  I think it went something like this: every single shopping trip I went on, I would pick something up and say, "Oh, this is cute--it would look perfect with white skinny jeans." and so began the quest.  The criteria was that they needed to be tight enough to make me look fabulous, but not so tight that I would look like I was trying too hard.  Easier said than done.  Enter Anthropologie, my new fashion enabler.  I love that for the most part, they don't sell their own label, but rather cull the best of the best of what's out there.  I can run all over chasing my tail trying to find the perfect thing, or just go there because I know that they try to weed out all of the crap.  They offer several white jean selections and I actually originally went for the Pilcro.  If I'm being honest, I will have to admit that what I fell in love with was the feel of the denim.  It's like butter.  That, and the salesgirl saying, "They fit you perfectly".  When I got home, I realized that they didn't.  Besides being about five inches too long (no big deal since I am 5' 2", EVERYTHING is too long and I have become a pro at hemming), some designer genius decided that the front pockets should be tan and white gingham.  Um, really?  On white pants?  After trying them on with everything in my closet, I found that I didn't own anything that would hide these goofy pockets.  It just looked stupid.  The final nail in the coffin was that the divine buttery fabric made for a super soft floppy waistband.  I am sure there are some women who would love this, but since I have a sort of annoying shape (straight up and down with a stomach that is not perfectly flat), the floppy soft waist just accentuated the lack of flat stomach instead of camouflaging it like great jeans do.  Back they went.  I decided to give Anthro one last chance and tried on one pair of every white skinny they had.  Here is my personal take on the inventory: Joe's Jeans Kicker: These might have been a winner since they were the only pair I tried on that would not have need hemming, however, they were not as low-rise as I like and the denim was really heavy and stiff.  I had a hard time imagining that I would want to wear these on hot days.  Current / Elliot Skinny Crops: These were probably the weirdest jeans I have ever tried on.  A true crop, they were pretty short and mid-calf on me just makes me look shorter.  The other issue was sizing.  I am either a 2 or 4 or 26 or 27 depending on manufacturer and cut.  I tried these in every size they had and they were all huge including the 25's.  While I pondered who exactly these jeans were made for, I came across the holy grail.  The AG Stevie Straight: Yes Virginia, there is a jean god and his name is Adriano Goldschmied.  These were also about five inches too long for me and if Anthro had the "ankle" version in white, they may have been perfect, but I am beyond being that picky.  The fabric is heavy enough to hide panty lines, but not so heavy that they would be too hot, it was soft, but the waistband was nice and firm, comfy and flattering.  Heck, they even made my butt look good.  The one single thing that I wasn't crazy about was the price: $164.  A lot to pay for one pair of jeans, but I look at it this way--if they fit perfectly I will get a ton of wear out of them and one pair of great fitting jeans much better than two lower priced pairs that don't look as good.  And look good they do.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

March 2012 Birchbox!

I have been a subscriber to Birchbox for three months now and can honestly say that I'm addicted both to the product and the concept.  It's marketing genuis and I'm only sorry that I didn't think of it first.  You pay $10 per month and a box of four to five (and this month six) high end large samples arrive in your mailbox on the 10th of each month.  Basically, I look at the fee as shipping cost and the samples are mostly free.  It's kind of like when a drug dealer gives you a free sample and gets you hooked so you keep coming back for more.  I love it because they are generally products that are expensive enough that I would be apprehensive about trying them without sampling first.  In addition to hooking you with the product itself, they offer free shipping on items in your box and you can earn points toward discounts by reviewing the products.  Here is my take on the things that came in my box this month:

Annick Goutal "Eau d'Hadrien":
I am familiar with this brand from time spent in France and can honestly say that I have not tried anything by them that I truly didn't like.  They are, however, a bit pricey and while this one was a bit different (lemon, grapefruit and green mandarin notes), the scent did not seem to last a long time.  My husband really doesn't like perfume, so I have to be careful how much I wear and how often.  A sample will last me quite a while and once it's gone, I will probably be on to something else so it is unlikely that I would buy a bottle.
Cost: Full size $85

Color Club Nail Polish "He Loves Me":
This was the only true dud for me in the box.  I am a total sucker for packaging and this just didn't do it for me, nor did the color which is sort of an odd medium pink.  I tend to go for either Chanel or OPI nail polish and it has to be either a real neutral or nice bright pink for toes in the summer.  This one was somewhere in between and just didn't make me happy when I looked at it.
Cost: $8

Eve Lom TLC Radiance Cream:
Ok, I'm having a serious love/hate relationship with this product.  My skin is CRAZY oily and breaks out (I am almost 40 and it hasn't stopped yet) so I am forced to use a Proactiv type product (that really, really works).  I use Algenist cream at night to keep wrinkles at bay, but almost never a moisturizer during the day.  I just don't need it and my skin feels awful if I do.  Serums over the Proactiv tend to work much better with a nice primer.  My neck, however, is a completely different story.  Thanks to a bad burn in a tanning bed when I was much younger and dumber, the skin on my neck is dry, scaly and horrible.  I have tried everything I can get my hands on (including La Mer) and while some products seem to work ok, I still haven't found the silver bullet.  This cult British facialist's cream is intensely hydrating and feels better on my neck than most other things I have tried.  The scent, on the other hand, is another thing altogether.  It is very strong and distinctive.  After over a week of using it, I cannot decide if I love or hate it.  Either way, it is very powerful and when it's on your face or neck you can smell it and continue to be able to long after applying it.
Cost: Full Size $68

Koh Gen Do Cleansing Water Cloth:
This is an interesting product.  Falling in line with other incredibly environmentally unfriendly single use over packaged products, this Japanese brand boasts a lot of things.  Made with mineral-rich spring waters, it is supposed to wipe away a day's worth of dirt and makeup in seconds.  Ok, now since one of my jobs is a High Performance Driving Instructor, I spend a lot of time on hot, dusty racetracks wearing a helmet and usually end up having to mop myself up in the bathroom at the end of the day with whatever paper towels and soap I can find.  This product would not be used every day for me, but would come in handy at the track.  So I tried it instead of washing my face at the end of a typical workday to see how effective it was.  Upon opening the plastic pack, I could tell that the cloth had a really nice clean scent and the cloth itself had a texture not unlike a moist paper towel.  After scrubbing at my Chanel NON waterproof mascara for some time, I still looked like a raccoon.  The rest of my face felt reasonably clean but not the deeper clean I get from my Cetaphil.  I gave up and re-washed my face as usual and as soon as I wet my eyes, the mascara ran enough to let me know that I hadn't even come close to removing all of it with the cloth.  Bottom line, this is not a good makeup remover, but I can use the other sample on a non-makeup day as a refresher and alternative to public bathroom soap and towels.  The pricing I found to be way over the top for what the product does.
Cost: 3 packs of 10: $39

Traditions by Nick Chavez Yucca Root Shampooing Cream:
At first glance, I was not wowed by this product for two reasons: one, the packaging is boring, and two, I wasn't crazy about the scent.  It's ok, but not an "OMG, I can't wait to smear this on my head" kind of smell.  Then I tried it.  Yeah, it's real good.  Seriously, I am a harsh critic of shampoo and here's why: my hair is completely schitzophrenic.  It has no idea what it wants to be.  Very fine and unbelievably thick (fine, but there is a TON of it), curly at the crown and nape and perfectly straight in the front.  Oh yeah, and as if that weren't challenging enough, it's color treated--not damaged per se, but tends to be a little dry.  One of my biggest pet peeves with shampoo is that it doesn't have enough slip so that I can easily work my fingers through it.  This one does--in spades.  It isn't really bubbly and sudsy and I have a water softener, so if you have hard water it would be even less so, but it has tons of slip.  While I was rinsing it out, it felt like silk.  I followed up with my regular conditioner and it did a fantastic job.  The only negatives that I could see are that it does contain sulfates (an ingredient I would rather not have) and the price.  It is heavily concentrated, so an 8 oz bottle would last a while.
Cost: Full size 8oz $20

Tea Forte: Skin Smart Teas:
Birchbox will often add a "Lifestyle Extra" which is usually a food item of some sort.  This is one of my favorite parts of the box because it's always unexpected and usually something interesting.  This time it was three Tea Forte tea bags that are supposed to contain antioxidants that will improve the appearance of your skin.  I just love it when products claim to do things like this because, how the heck can you tell?  The tea tasted good (I often drink herbal tea at night with no sugar to try to keep myself from snacking on things before bed) and I enjoyed these, plus Tea Forte gets an A+ for packaging and presentation!  I received three flavors: Cherry Marzipan, Cucumber Mint and Honey Yuzu.  I think the Cucumber Mint was my favorite and had the best "naked" flavor (no sugar).
Cost: 16 tea bags $6

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

March 6: "Five O'Clock"

If I'm being honest, I have to admit that this doesn't always happen like clockwork in my house, but as far as my dogs are concerned, it should.  Every.  Single.  Day.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The answer was right in front of me.

I think that over the years I have tried just about every shampoo under the sun.  My hair is a strange combination--the individual hairs are fine and a little fragile, but I have a TON of them.  Top that off with the fact that it's very curly in the back and straight in the front and heavily highlighted.  If it had a personality of its own, it would be schizophrenic.   It has no idea who it is or what it's supposed to be.  It is rare that I find a shampoo that really works--doesn't weigh it down or make it dry as a stick, doesn't make the curls pouf sky high or the straight parts just hang limp and lifeless.  I was a big fan of Bumble & Bumble's Seaweed shampoo and conditioner, but once the price for an 8 oz bottle topped $20, well enough was enough and I decided to find something else.  I tried Garnier's Fructis and that worked pretty well for a $3 shampoo, especially considering the much pricier products that didn't make the cut.  Then I learned about the evils of paraben and read the label on my shampoo.  Uh, buh-bye.  I wandered around aimlessly looking for a good product that wouldn't be full of chemicals I didn't want to use or cost a fortune.  Enter Giovanni Smooth as Silk.  I had seen this in just about every store I shop in (Wegman's, Whole Foods, Target, etc.).  The packaging caught my eye every time I walked past it, but I never tried it. The price was right, the ingredients friendly and the smell was perfectly divine.  I was not disappointed.  So far, it seems to work better than anything I've tried and I feel good using it.  Also, the bottle looks cool in my shower.

March 5: "A Smile"

Those of you who know Zoe may have seen that she has the rare ability to smile like a person.  Yup, a big toothy grin.  Unlike most dogs who do this, she doesn't seem to do it as an act of submission or when she's nervous or unsure.  No, she does it when she sees someone she really, really likes or when something unexpected happens that she finds to be truly wonderful.  All bets are off, however, if you have a camera in your hand.  She spent the first few years of her life being absolutely terrified of the camera and then for some reason decided that it wasn't completely evil.  Still, you will not get a smile if you have one in your hand, and heaven knows, I sure tried.  This was the best I could get.  As soon as I gave up, of course she smiled.  Booger.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

March 4: "Bedside"

At any given point in time, I have a giant stack of books on my bedside table and yes, I am in the process of reading or re-reading them.  My latest find is a really fun little book titled "Parisian Chic" by Ines de la Fressange.  I saw this some time ago on Amazon and wasn't inspired to buy it, but stumbled across it yesterday in Anthropologie and it was so cute in person that I had to have it.  I'm currently reading that one, so that's why it's on top.  See the book here.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

March 3: "Your Neighborhood"

I tried to show the insane elevation changes that make up my neighborhood.  Somehow, it just doesn't translate the same in photos as it does when you're walking it or driving through it in the snow.  Every year when it snows we make popcorn and watch our neighbors try to drive to their houses.  Last year two of them ended up on our lawn.  It wasn't so funny then.

A happy accident of my wandering around the neighborhood looking for ways to show elevation is that I noticed this house with the red roof for the first time.  I know the people who live there because I rescued their pug "Gucci", twice but had no idea exactly where their house was.  It appears that over the winter they renovated and added a red metal roof.  It looks great and now it's impossible to miss.

Friday, March 2, 2012

March 2: "Fruit"

Today's theme was "fruit" which was convenient since I happened to have one of those cute little orange/tangerine thingees for lunch.  I decided that it looked more interesting after I started to peel it.  The stem part fell of and just kind of landed there.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

After having neglected my poor little blog for a ridiculous amount of time, I was inspired to dive back in with a photo challenge.  Apparently, this is something people do in March and I decided it would be a fun way to brush up on my photography skills.  Check out this website for inspiration:

Today's theme is "Up".

I also have a confession.  I am a sucker for great packaging.  Trader Joe's has figured out how to capitalize on this in a big way (at least with me).  The holiday related specialty item was something I had to have if for no other reason than the box looks really cool.  Also, the little figs are yummy.